She is at war with herself, the life within her fighting the death without her. And she knows this. And she writes me this. She says, "So after I talked to you, I went out to the cemetery. The sun was out here and it was a beautiful day. Snow in patches hugging the earth in lovely patterns making me realize the earth has temperatures of variation, like a body. I had not realized that before. Then as I drove back, a rage overtook me and I raped and pillaged. I went to where I used to live along the beach and cut branches from bushes I know will bloom (not in obvious places or so they would hurt the bush or tree). Many, many branches that filled up the trunk of the car and the backseat. It took an hour and a half to get them all recut and into water all over my house and closed porch. I've been cutting forsythia and 'forcing' it, but haven't tried these others--redbud, cherry, baby's breath, flowering almond, weigela (probably too late a bloomer), lilac (doubt this one will work) .... "
As she writes this to me, it is March, a month when boys hang themselves, a month when winter has stayed too long. A month when spring is near and force may be applied.
I don't trust the answers or the people who give me the answers. I believe in dirt and bone and flowers and fresh pasta and salsa cruda and red wine. I do not believe in white wine; I insist on color. I think death is a word and life is a fact, just as food is a fact and cactus is a fact.
There is apparently a conspiracy to try to choke me with words. There are these steps to death--is it seven or twelve or what? fuck, I can't remember--and then you arrive at acceptance. Go toward the light. Our Father who art in heaven. Whosoever shall believe in me shall not perish. Too many words choking me, clutching at my throat until they strangle any bad words I might say. Death isn't the problem. The words are, the lies are. I have sat now with something broken inside me for months, and the words--death, grief, fear--don't touch my wounds.
I have crawled back from someplace where it was difficult to taste food and where the flowers flashing their crotches in my face all but lacked scent. My wounds kept me alive; my wounds, I now realize, were life. I have drunk a strong drug and my body is ravaged by all the love and caring and the colors and forms and the body growing still in the new silence of the room as someone I knew and loved ceased breathing.
I remember standing in the room with Art's corpse, so warm, his heart had stopped beating maybe a hundred and twenty seconds earlier, and I stood there wondering, What has changed now, what is it that just took place? And I realized that I had advanced not an inch from where I stood as a boy when I held my dying dog and watched life wash off his furry face with a shudder. I do not regret this inability to grow into wisdom. I listen to Chris saying, Good news, two inches of rain at the ranch. Look up at the stout pipe Paul picked for the rope. Hear Dick slowly trying to explain--in words so soft I must lean forward to hear them--why he cannot pick up a plastic horseshoe in the evening light at the nuthouse. Then these pat words show up that people offer me and these pious words slink away like a cur flinching from this new stillness on the wind.
Almost every great dish in Italian cooking has fewer than eight ingredients. Get rid of things or food will be complex and false. In the garden, there is no subtlety. A flower is in your face and is never named Emily. Be careful of the words; go into the bone garden and then taste desire. So it has taken months and it is still a matter of the tongue and of lust. And if you go toward that light and find it, piss on it for me.
I would believe in the words of solace if they included fresh polenta with a thickened brown sauce with shiitake and porcini mushrooms. The corn must be coarse-ground and simmered and stirred for at least forty minutes, then spread flat on a board about an inch thick and cooled in a rich yellow sheet. The sauce, a brew of vegetable broth, white wine, pepper, salt, some olive oil, and minced garlic, is rich like fine old wood in a beloved and scarred table. When you are ready, grill a slab of the polenta, having first lightly brushed it with olive oil, then ladle on some sauce. And eat. The dish is brutally simple. But it skirts the lie of the words of solace; it does not deny desire.
Never deny desire. Not once. Always go to the garden and the kitchen. Whatever death means, the large white cactus flower still opens in the evening and floods the air with lust and hot wet loins. The mushroom sauce on the corn mush will calm no one, either.
That is why they are better than the words.
As I sit here, Chris is to the south, Art is to the west, Paul is back east, and Dick is in the backyard by the fierce green flesh of the cactus. These things I know. The answers I don't know, nor am I interested. That is why food is important and plants are important. Because they are not words and the answers people offer me are just things they fashion out of words. A simple veal ragu is scent and texture and color and soft on the tongue. It is important to cut onions by hand. The power of the flower at night is frightening, the lust floods the air and destroys all hope of virtue.
There will be more blooms this spring--the cactus grew at least ten feet last year. They will open around nine in the evening and then close at the first gray light of dawn. I'll sit out there with a glass of red wine and the lights out.
When I tell people about the blooms, about how they open around nine and close before sunrise and do this just for one night, they always ask, Is that all?
Yes. That’s all.